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Like most albums within Death's later works there is a tendency even by the band's more established fans to ignore this part of their career in favor of "Scream Bloody Gore." While there certainly isn't anything wrong with wanting to hear more and more of those early days of death metal, it does cause some audiences to erroneously push aside Death's more accomplished works. What it boils down to isn't so much as a pissing contest between Death's earlier and later careers, but more of the perspective of a band's evolution.
Death, to me, are one of those bands who managed to be technical and progressive, yet enjoyable. Such a combination is not an easy one to find in death metal, especially in modern times where the emphasis is placed on sheer complexity for no specific purpose other than just to do it. Yet Death had a purpose all along for their progression and evolution, and their final album in "The Sound of Perserverance" saw yet another mountain being scaled.
The song lengths on "The Sound of Perserverance" are the longest of any Death album, which is interesting since song durations had been increasing with each successive release. The durations here break the five minute mark on average, with only two exceptions in "Bite the Pain" and "Voice of the Soul," and with six songs that break the six minute mark. This is a remarkable shift from previous albums like "Individual Thought Patterns," where the song lengths were 3-4 minutes. The additional times allow for more progressive elements and section changes, which is actually one of the only flaws present on this album, which I will get to later.
The other major change is Chuck's voice, which has adopted a thrashier vocal style instead of lower, heavier tone he's had on previous works. This allows a new facet to the band we haven't before, one that works very well in most regards. Its interesting to hear these changes, particularly since Chuck was the only remaining band member from the line-up that was featured on "Symbolic." In some ways, its almost like "The Sound of Perserverance" was recorded by an entirely different band, yet, paradoxically, maintains that signature Death vibe.
You get a feel for what I mean in that last sentence by the opener, "Scavenger of Human Sorrow." This nearly seven minute track goes through numerous changes, but most of these move quite smoothly. Like most of Death's later output, the song length feels longer than it really is due to all the changes and shifts that filter in and out. I don't count this as a negative aspect to the album or the band in general, as they pull it off better than most progressive death metal bands out there.
"Bite the Pain" is shorter, and contains one of the more memorable riffs on the album. The song eventually picks up speed, which it maintains for most of the listen. Then comes "Spirit Crusher," which a personal favorite of mine alongside "A Moment of Clarity." Both of these songs are the most memorable of the bunch, whose progressive elements pull you into the song into instead allowing you to merely "hear" it. That seems to be the problem with "The Sound of Perserverance," in that a good number of these songs don't reach out and grab the listener like "Symbolic" did. "Symbolic" pulled the audience into the album, whereas this album can be a little much to withstand at times.
The main problem with this isn't that the songs are too long, but instead that some of these songs have too many ideas and come off as over-developed. They become difficult to listen to on one full listen, which is something I never encountered on "Symbolic" or "Human." I also get that feeling at times of the dreaded "technicality for the sake of technicality," one of the things that Death never indulged in without some purpose. This is the only real flaw I could find on this album, save perhaps the Judas Priest cover tacked on at the end. The "Painkiller" is a definite keeper, no doubt about it, but I'm not a big fan of sticking covers at the end of a proper album. Its a bit picky of me, but it seems like that would have been best saved for a compilation of some kind.
"The Sound of Perserverance" wasn't the strongest note for Death to exit on, but it was still impressive. Death climbed alot of mountains in their time, thanks largely to the genius of Chuck Schuldiner, but here it seems too much. The album is still an excellent one, especially for 1998 when it was released, a time when all forms of metal found themselves in awkward places and unsure where to go next. It still remains a favorite of mine in Death's catalog (along with pretty much every album they did) and while I can recommend it to the fan of Death's later works, I still acknowledge "Symbolic" as superior to this and their best effort.